BANGKOK – Thailand’s Royal Thai police have downplayed a probe into more than 50 officers transferred over suspected links to human trafficking networks, saying the transfers were “standard operating procedure” and that most of the officers were suspected only of negligence.
Southeast Asia is being hit by a wave of migrants arriving in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, part of a regional human trafficking crisis driven by conflict, persecution and poverty.
Police Lieutenant General Prawut Thawornsiri, spokesman for the Royal Thai Police, said today the transfers of the policemen were part of normal procedure and that most did not have direct links to human traffickers. Rather, they had been negligent in the detection of human trafficking camps and gangs in southern Thailand.
“This is normal procedure to move them out for investigation,” Prawut told said in an interview. “We are conducting an internal investigation and it should be done in one month.
“The accusation against them is failure in their duty to respond and their duty to care.”
Malaysia detained more than one thousand Rohingya migrants from Myanmar and Bangladeshis earlier today, a day after Indonesian authorities rescued more than 500 stranded off the coast of the country’s western tip.
In Thailand, authorities are questioning more than 100 migrants near the country’s border with Malaysia to determine whether they were victims of human trafficking.
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha ordered a clean-up of suspected human trafficking camps around the country last week after 33 bodies, believed to be of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh, were found in shallow graves in the south of the country, near Malaysia.
Meanwhile, Deputy Defense Minister and Army chief Gen Udomdej Sitabutr said Monday that the government has to work harder to prove to the international community that Thailand has sincere intention to tackle the issue of human trafficking.
Udomdej said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has instructed the Army, the Internal Security Operations Command, the Royal Thai Police and the Interior Ministry to cooperate to tackle the problem as Thailand is the transit country of the smuggling efforts.
Last year, Thailand was downgraded to the US State Department’s lowest category — or Tier 3 — in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which assesses how governments around the world have performed in fighting human trafficking.
Prawut said Thailand has known about human trafficking within its borders for years but that, before the downgrade to Tier 3, officials considered human trafficking to be a small criminal business.
“Before Tier 3 everybody thought that this was a small case. Everybody knew about the camps for Rohingya. Locals made profit to take care of the Rohingya on their way to Malaysia. It was seen as a small business, like tourism, but lately these guys got rich so it has become a big business.”
An estimated 25,000 Rohingyas and Bangladeshis boarded people-smugglers’ boats in the first three months of this year, twice as many in the same period of 2014, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said on Friday.